Life in a western society is usually very rushed and quite stressful, with many things throughout the day that seek out attention and can easily pull us out of a steady state of mind into a panicked and stressed one. This is where mindfulness can step in, helping people become grounded to the present movements and easing excess stress.
Although some people are so busy that they may not have time to develop a structured and formal practice, it is also possible to even invest several seconds of the day into an action that may help to reduce stress and rekindle focus in a situation. This article will aim to display a few of such techniques, along with several more time dependant ones.
Although some people may view mindfulness as some kind of far out, pseudo science, there is valid scientific evidence that proofs it is an effective technique to maintain and aid psychological health.
For example, a review titled Effect of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies discusses such benefits, with the authors of the paper concluding that, “...mindfulness bring about various positive psychological effects, including increased subjective well-being, reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and improved behavioral regulation”. These seemingly life changing benefits alone seem like reasons to start right away.
Let's take a look at several methods that help to cultivate a stable state of mind that can be utilised throughout the day.
Focusing on the breath is a great way to ground yourself during a working day or a particularly stressful situation. It is extremely practical, considering that the breath is already constantly flowing in and out of you, it just so happens that it is outside of our attention most of the time. However the interesting thing about the breath is that it can be controlled by consciously and subconsciously, if we so choose we can take control of our breath and use it as a tool to calm us, and as a sensation to focus on in order to take us into the present moment.
Due to the amount of stress that most of us experience on a day to day basis from bills to traffic to relationship issues, we are constantly experiencing the fight or flight response, or stress response. Although this state is sometimes necessary in order to help us react fast in certain situations, its persistent recurrence is actually highly detrimental and can even lend towards the development of several health conditions including high blood pressure and a suppression of the immune system which can increase the risk of other illnesses.
The opposite to the stress response is what is known as the relaxation response. This response can actually be induced through breathing. Most of the time throughout the day we are most likely taking very shallow and quick breathes. However taking deep breaths that really cause the diaphragm to contract and cause the belly to expand encourages full oxygen exchange. This means that heart rate and blood pressure may normalise, physically reducing those symptoms caused by the stress response.
Depending on the time a person has in the day, they may need to dedicate different amounts of time to a breathing practice. Some people may have enough time at the start or end or their day to sit down and really dive into a fifteen or twenty minute long session of deep, stress reducing breathing.
Others, however, may be more tight on time, though this isn’t a reason to completely abandon the idea and method in order to reduce stress in their own lives. Even taking a few seconds at work or elsewhere to sit back, pay attention to the breath and consciously take in a few deep lungfuls of air may be enough to induce a certain amount of focus and relaxation.
Regardless of where it is done, the participant can take some time to find a quiet place if possible and perhaps even shut their eyes. Paying attention to each breath will bring them into the moment and hopefully away from any bustling and busy thoughts of the tasks that the day presents.
The person should pay attention to the air entering their nostrils or mouth and how to tracks down into the lungs. They should focus on how the air first makes the chest expand. However if they keep inhaling in order to fill the lungs, the stomach will eventually expand too. This is the type of breathing likely to induce the relaxation response.
There are various types of meditation and various goals people hope to achieve by participating in it and developing it over time. Some of those goals include an increased awareness of self and behaviour, a deep sense of relaxation and an increased connection with the present moment. Whatever your specific goal may be, it is most likely that your form of meditation can also be done whilst walking, and be just as effective as a sitting version.
Walking is a lot like breathing in that it is a simple act that can help to anchor the attention to the present moment. Repeatedly stepping one foot in front of the other is a meditative act in itself. And walking can easily be fit into a person's day, no matter how full of events or busy it may be.
Before starting the walk, it is recommended that the participant takes a while at the start to stand still and take some deep breaths in order to catalyse the relaxation response. Such breathing here can help as a tool to focus the attention on before the walk even begins.
Once the person's begins walking, they can use the sensations that emerge from their body as something to pay attention to, as well as all the different body parts, joints and muscles that are contributing to the movement.
Although there will be sounds and sensations surrounding a person that will challenge their attention, they can easily bring it back to the act of walking.
Loving kindness meditation is a form of Buddhist meditation that largely focuses upon the cultivation of unconditional love and kindness towards the self and others. The key idea behind it is the generation of ideas of love and kindness towards a particular person or group of people. For example during a meditation a practitioner may emit words or phrases towards their target such as “may you be happy”, or, “may you be free from suffering”.
Buddhism claims that the practise of loving kindness meditation cultivates what is called the “four immeasurable” which include loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity.
This technique over time will clearly start to increase a person's compassion and appreciation of those participating towards those they aim their meditations towards, perhaps improving relationships and connection between them and others.
Science has taken quite a deep look into loving kindness meditation and has discovered that it cultivates some positive emotional states within individuals.
A paper titled The effect of loving-kindness meditation of positive emotions: a meta-analytic review published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology details some of these findings. The authors state that loving kindness meditation “could enhance positive emotions in daily life and that the on-going practice of LKM [loving kindness meditation] could provide short-term positive emotions.”
Even eating can be used as a time to attempt to cultivate some mindfulness. Taking time to truly enjoy and digest your meal can become a time of focus and calm. Really focusing on the textures and tastes within your mouth, as well as taking time to slowly chew and cherish your food can become a meditation of its own.
Taking time away from distractions such television shows and the internet while eating may actually help to digest food. Any stimulating activity may slow down or cease digestion due to igniting the fight or flight response.
Taking time to go for a walk or sunbathe in a local park or forest will increase your connection to nature, help you slow down and soak in the present moment. In Japan the practise of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing) has been studied and positive results have been identified.
Forest bathing seems to be able to lower cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress. The activity is also linked with lower blood pressure.